The Working Waterfront

Island lessons carry through teaching job

Former Island Fellow returns to her island

Maggie Small
Posted 2016-09-22
Last Modified 2016-09-22

Reflections is a monthly column written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands and in remote coastal communities through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. Maggie Small is a former Island Fellow who served on Peaks Island

The dictionary definition of community is “a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.” The dictionary definition of island is “a tract of land completely surrounded by water, and not large enough to be called a continent.” And the dictionary definition of school is “an institution where instruction is given, especially to persons under college age.”

So why do you need to know these definitions, and what do they have to do with life following my island fellowship on Peaks Island?

As an island fellow, my second year was spent working at the Peaks Island Elementary School, a school that’s also a small community on an island. So going back to our definitions, that gives us a specific group of individuals—island kindergarteners through fifth graders—on a tract of land, Peaks Island, who have come together to get some instruction at an elementary school.

My work at the Peaks Island school ranged from teaching classes to helping clean the building. I learned a great deal about how a school runs from top to bottom, and I often heard the phrase “when you’re a teacher…”

Now fast forward two years, and that phrase has become a reality: I am now the third- and fourth-grade science teacher at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Mass.

How did that become a reality? Well, I joined a different kind of community. The year following my fellowship, I participated in the teacher training course at Shady Hill while also getting my master’s in education from Lesley University. I joined a community of 16 apprentices to watch, learn, and practice how to become a teacher.

One of the biggest lessons I learned as an Island Fellow is that it’s important to have a support system, people with whom you can spend hours on Skype, talking about island life; to whose houses you can invite yourself for dinner, sometimes unannounced; or for whom you’re willing to take two different ferries to go visit in the middle of winter.

As an apprentice at Shady Hill, I found a similar kind of support system, except now we were in the same physical location. I had directing teachers who provided constructive feedback, fellow apprentices who reminded me of assignments or shared a meal with me, and I had teachers who shared the tricks of the trade.

While life following my fellowship has been extremely busy, that isn’t an excuse to not go back and visit Peaks. Most recently, I returned for the annual Peaks Island Children’s Workshop Soiree, where I learned the lesson that once an Island Fellow, always an Island Fellow.

The night was filled with friendship, great music, good food and a beautiful sunset. Yet at points throughout the night, I found myself in conversations about island happenings, helping to clean up dishes, and moving furniture around. It was like I had never left.

This week as I set up my classroom to prepare for my first year as a full-time teacher at Shady Hill, I hung up my Peter Ralston print entitled “The Office” on the wall of my office, a memento I received for completing two years of an island fellowship. As I catch the photo out of the corner of my eye walking to start class, I reflect back on the phrase, “when you’re a teacher.” Now I am a teacher, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.